Data: Hands-Free Cell Phones Aren't Safer

Person texting on cell phone while driving iStockphoto

The data released Tuesday on the dangers of using cell phones while driving has been kept under wraps for years by the very agency tasked with protecting us on the highway, reports CBS News investigative correspondent Sharyl Attkisson.

The research suggests hands-free headsets and built-in phones like "OnStar" are no safer than handheld phones: it's the conversation that distracts drivers. And the research calls into question laws passed in five states and Washington, D.C. requiring drivers to use hands-free phones under the belief that they're safer.

Remarkably, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has kept hundreds of pages of the research secret since 2003. The documents were only released today by public advocates who had to sue to get them.

"What was there reason for keeping these documents secret?" Attkisson asked.

"From looking at these docs now, it seems like nothing more than an agency who knew about a serious safety problem and didn't know the public to know that they weren't doing anything about it," said Margaret Kwoka, with the Public Citizen advocacy group.

Why is the question. Safety advocates suspect the government didn't want to upset the powerful wireless industry which has spent $35 million lobbying Congress since 2000 and was said to have gotten frequent updates on the research.Tuesday, the then-number two official at the Transportation Department told CBS News by phone: the idea of industry influence is "total bunk," and he simply felt the research "wasn't clear."

David Teater hopes the debate will save lives. His son Joe was killed by a driver who ran a red light while on a cell phone.

"I would hope that what's happened today would actually be a good thing, that it would recharge the energy around this subject," Teater said.

Today, safety advocates filed a petition asking for a ban of built-in phones and interactive devices while a vehicle is moving.
  • Sharyl Attkisson On Twitter»

    Sharyl Attkisson is a CBS News investigative correspondent based in Washington.

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